Can The “Thunder Model” Really Be Followed Without Kevin Durant?

As a Cavs fan, I couldn’t be more thrilled with the way the ping pong balls bounced on Tuesday night.  I know some people think the Draft lottery is rigged and even if it is, I could care less.  I might have agreed had the Cavaliers walked out with the 5th and 11th picks, but they didn’t.  So I’m not.  Nor would I have ever said it the way he said it either, but whatever.  On June 23rd the Cavaliers will have the opportunity to pick both 1st and 4th, and I’m pumped about that.  However they end up using those selections they’ll end up with better players than they had last season, and that’s great.  No offense to Manny Harris, Samardo Samuels, and Alonzo Gee respectively.

But beyond the short-term probability of additional talent at a minimum, likely in the form of Kyrie Irving, is this notion that “now” the Cavaliers can build their team the “right way”.  Now they can select young, talented, future stars and allow them the opportunity to develop in “their system”.  As opposed to the LeBron James gun-to-your-head mentality that influenced the Cavaliers brass to make future-mortgaging moves for guys like Damon Jones, Donyell Marshall, and Antawn Jamision in an attempt to “win-now” and appease a pending free agent-to-be.

This new mentality of acquiring draft picks and spending those selections on future stars has somehow become known as the “Thunder Model”.  The first step towards the Cavaliers attempt to follow this template for success was executed when Dan Gilbert purchased the rights to the L.A. Clippers’ unprotected first rounder, as well as Baron Davis and his contract, by trading away Mo Williams and Jamario Moon.  The same pick that ended up being number one overall.  So far, so good.

I loved that move at the time, and love it even more now as a Cavs fan.  Mo Williams had to get going. Jamario Moon may very well go down as the worst opening day starter in NBA history if Stats Cube ever ends up tracking that sort of thing, and beyond the pick, I’m a big fan of the attitude and mentality that Baron Davis arrived in Cleveland with as well.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I’ll also add that I think he still has some game left too, but that’s not what I’m getting at here.


While I am excited, and don’t mean to bang on a negative drum in an otherwise festive moment amidst “follow the Thunder Model” cheers and chants, I’d be remissed if I didn’t ask out-loud what I’ve always thought about that idea.  Which is, how exactly is a team supposed to duplicate this Thunder Model without Kevin Durant?  A guy who lead the NBA in scoring over the last two years.  A guy who scored 40 in the Western Conference Finals on Tuesday.  And most importantly, a top-5 NBA player who chose to sign an extension this past summer for 6 more years well before his contract came due.

Thing is, if LeBron signed that same extension at that same moment in his career everybody would be talking about following the “Cavaliers Model” right now.  No way Danny Ferry adds the pieces he does if LeBron is locked up for 6 more years.  And there’s also no way – in my humble opinion – that we’d be calling it the Thunder Model had Portland not drafted Greg Oden.  Team Durant with Brandon Roy and we’d be calling it the Trailblazers Model. 

I’m not saying the Thunder didn’t make other good draft picks early in the first round right around the same time they picked Durant because they did.  Russell Westbrook is a star, and James Harden – while probably not 3rd overall good (Carmelo Anthony went 3rd) – is pretty good too.  So was Jeff Green, who they’ve since exchanged for Kendrick Perkins who is currently averaging 4 points a game right now in the playoffs for OKC.  Don’t tell him I said that though because his mean-faces scare me quite a bit.  

All this isn’t to say I don’t like Perk though because I do.  I also do like the Thunder’s make-up overall as well.  In so many ways they have done things “the right way” as an organization.  I simply believe that Kevin Durant’s impact on the organization’s ability “to do things the right way” is way, way, way underappreciated.  There is no “Thunder Model” without Kevin Durant, and I really think it’s foolish to think that you can follow that template blindly and be as successfull.

How does this tie-back into the Cavs?  I guess I hope Kyrie Irving is as good for the Cavaliers organization as Durant is for OKC’s, in every way that Durant is good.  I also kinda think the Cavaliers will and should look to trade that 4th overall pick for a SF who can help the Cavaliers win sooner rather than later.  I think there will be some players that can be available that we don’t know right now or even think will be available on Draft Night become available.  I think there will be a considerable amount of owners looking to shed salary in fear of the new CBA and dump a piece or two that unique circumstances could make possible for the Cavaliers to acquire.

If the Cavaliers do end up making a move like that with their 4th pick, I hope people don’t think that means the organization is going down the wrong path now.  That they’re not following the “Thunder Model” anymore by not drafting a player at four.

I like Kyrie Irving at #1 for the Cavs, obviously.  It’s huge, and Irving alone will make this draft a successful one for Cleveland.  At four, I don’t see Russell Westbrook.  I don’t even see a Jeff Green or James Harden either.  If they do make that pick I hope I’m wrong.  If they don’t, and end up dealing it, I’ll say right now that I trust they’re not wrong to do that.  Even if OKC never did something like that.  

About Brendan Bowers

I am the founding editor of I am also a content strategist and social media manager with Electronic Merchant Systems in Cleveland. My work has been published in SLAM Magazine, KICKS Magazine, The Locker Room Magazine,,, and elsewhere. I've also written a lot of articles that have been published here.